When I was a kid Christmas felt lonely. I grew up in the outer western suburbs of Sydney in a small fibro house with my mum, dad, and three (much older) brothers. There were no cousins to play with, no aunties inviting me for sleepovers or nannas to sneak chockie bickies from – just us. So on Christmas morning, the excitement would last for about 10 minutes while we exchanged presents and then for the rest of the day we were pretty much left to our own devices. And as it was so uncool for my brothers to hang out with their daggy little sister, that usually meant playing on my own.
It was one of the only days of the year when we weren’t allowed to visit our friends. On Christmas day I would often sit on the front lawn and watch the festivities of the neighbourhood unfold, dying to join in, but knowing that Christmas was a ‘family’ day and that I didn’t belong.
There were only two traditions we celebrated for Christmas. The first one was picking through the Christmas pudding to find the shiny coins hidden within, and this was always looked forward to. The second tradition was so exciting – not just for me but for the whole neighbourhood. One of the neighbourhood dads would dress up as Father Christmas on the eve of the big day and give all of the neighbourhood children a present. This would require a huge amount of planning (and sneaking about) as the presents were provided by the children’s parents. On Christmas Eve the street would be alive, the atmosphere electric. Families would spill into the street and children would play and chatter excitedly, awaiting the arrival of the man in red. Cheers would erupt on hearing his bell and his hearty ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’ as he came over the hill.
It was exciting to be part of it all. It wasn’t about the present – in fact receiving the present was probably the worst part, because that meant the fun would soon end and everyone would return to their houses. The exciting part was being amid the party atmosphere, sharing food and laughs with friends. The fact that it was the only Christmas party I was ever likely to attend as a child made it even more special for me.
Fortunately my own children are growing up with many relatives to share our own Christmas traditions with – two sets of grandparents and a large number of aunts and uncles, great aunts, great uncles and second cousins. No first cousins unfortunately. And as mine are the only two children in our extended family you can imagine how spoilt they are. This has always been quite a concern to me. Growing up with both parents working, in a lower/middle class family in a reasonably rough neighbourhood has certainly made me greatly appreciative of what I have now. I don’t believe you can fully appreciate what you have unless you have had to live without it or have worked hard for it. My children’s experiences have been very much different to my own; with a stay at home mum, a nice house and private school. It is a great concern to me that my children will not gain a sense of gratitude for what they have when they have so much. It concerns me that, in my children’s eyes, Christmas is all about ‘stuff’, and that relatives will become invisible as they only have eyes for the presents in their hands. It is my job as their parent to put the focus on relatives, rather than retail, on Christmas customs, not commercialism.
I can’t stop the family from showering my children in gifts, but I can shift my kids’ focus to thinking about celebrating rather than receiving by creating our own Christmas traditions to look forward to. We can have a tree assembly ceremony. We can spend an afternoon making our own trinkets for the tree, and we can pop popcorn (the old fashioned way) to make garlands and paper chains to use instead of tinsel. We can finger paint our own wrapping paper, send homemade Christmas cards to friends and family and even hand them out to people in our community or make our own table decorations and bon bons, including coming up with the jokes! There is always the pageant requiring packing a picnic for, and of course, some time can be given to the origins of Christmas as Jesus’ birthday. Personally, I think nothing beats Poppy Santa, who always visits us on Christmas day, suspiciously at the same time my dad excuses himself. There are many Christmas traditions we can include our children in that doesn’t just require them to wait for the presents to be handed out.
I want to share with you a game I played with my husband’s family the first time I met them as one of their Christmas traditions. The only presents each family bought were three presents which totalled $10 maximum. These were wrapped and placed in the circle of family members. Two die were produced and each person took turns rolling them. Whoever rolled a double got to choose a present from the pile and play continued until all the presents were taken – and this is where the fun begins. With 10 minutes on the clock, the game continues but now players could ‘steal’ from each other when rolling a double. This provided much raucous as family members favoured the same present, stealing it back and forth, only to find out upon opening that it was a very large pair of women’s knickers, or other hilariously inappropriate items.
So when people say Christmas is about giving, they are right. It shouldn’t focus solely on gifts but about giving your consideration and your appreciation to those who mean the most to us. After all, there’s no better gift than a loving family.